Hello all. For those of you wondering when, if ever, will I pay some mind to the hottest smartphone on the planet (for aggrieved iPhone fans: I said 'smartphone', not 'gadget' or 'toy', so we're all good!), the moment is finally here. I got to spend a few hours with the phone and here are my initial impressions.
Decidedly ordinary. It seems Samsung started on a design then forgot about halfway through. The result is a phone that is shaped like most Toyotas: not horrid but nothing to remember aesthetically. The corners are round, the hardware buttons on the face are ugly. The looks are not helped by the fact that the Galaxy Nexus had broadly the same design, but looks infinitely more classy by comparison thanks to its tasteful dark gray finish and the curved screen.
Looking at the S3, I realized how well designed Galaxy S2 is. Yes, some people thought it infringed on iPhone's design, but as it is it was a good design with distinctive corners. S3 is somehow not that pleasing.
That said, I must mention one thing: in real life the phone is MUCH better looking than the pictures would lead you to believe. Also, this isn't a beauty contest GS3's looks are likely to improve with prolonged usage.
As you all know the GS3 sports a quad-core Exynos processor by Samsung, an 8 MP camera module, 1 GB RAM, 16 GB internal memory and a 4.8 inch HD screen with SuperAMOLED technology. It is a testament to the advanced specifications being sported by Android phones that I feel the need to discuss only the screen as other components' impact is reflected more accurately in the software.
In 2010 and 2011, Samsung was the king of the display pile. Super AMOLED technology, powering both Galaxy S and S II, ruled the roost in terms of contrast and colour. However, in 2012 that is no longer a given. HTC One X sports an IPS LCD display that is much sharper than that of S3 thanks to its avoidance of the pentile matrix. Pentile vs RGB is a raging debate among display enthusiasts these days. That's right: 'display enthusiasts' - and you thought lessapple was geeky! I will leave that overly complex discussion to your Google skills and come back on topic. One X's display beats that of Galaxy S3 in terms of colours and text sharpness. S3's saving graces are its gorgeous black and contrast ratio. The display is essentially the same as those of Galaxy Nexus and Note.
In real life, of course, the display works exceptionally well. The resolution helps the text sharpness and the colors are bright and rich.
I won't dwell too much on the multimedia features, seeing as they have been uniformly excellent on all Samsung flagship devices since two years. The camera, camcorder, video player, speakers, all work perfectly with added speed thanks to the processing powerhouse underneath.
First, let's get the positives out of the way.
1) The icons on the TouchWiz launcer have a soft shadow effect beneath them that makes everything look serene and beautiful - in fact at par with iPhone icons.
2) Samsung have FINALLY given the users an option to arrange icons in the application drawer alphabetically. You know, the method which is most logical and convenient. It took them two years but they finally did it!
Now, let's come to what I really think of the software. In recent times, the Internet has made a noun of a well known verb signifying a lack of desired results, and somehow it says what I feel about TouchWiz (TW) skin on S3 with eerie accuracy.
Why, you ask? Oh, where do I even begin.
First of all, the desktop sticks to a 4x4 grid. That means 16 slots for you to fill with icons or widgets. Same as 2011. Same as 2010. Same as f***ing 2009. Interestingly, compared to 2010's Galaxy S, the S3's screen has 44% more space and - get this - a freaking 3 TIMES more pixels. So what do Samsung do with all this additional space? Take a look. Galaxy S3 on left, Galaxy S on right.
It looks like last two years did not happen! Oh yes, there's progress. Icons look nicer on S3, though as you can see, they are the SAME mostly. The home screen indicator dot row has been shifted to bottom instead of top. Wow.
To put this in context. Galaxy S launched with Android 2.3. Galaxy S3 has Android 4.0. Google launched Android 4.0 through Samsung's own excellent Galaxy Nexus, approximately seven months ago. That means Samsung had the source code for the OS since months. What did they do? This:
Can you tell these are from different phones? Left one is from Galaxy S2, while right one is from S3! Samsung have made no significant changes to their core apps (contacts, messaging, dialer) and the biggest fallout of this laziness is that some vital functionality present in pure Android 4.0 is missing in Galaxy S3. Of course in some cases the situation is reversed too. But...just LOOK at those screens. Is a little progress too much to ask?
There has also been zero progress in one other area: the buttons below the screen. These are the SAME home, menu and back buttons that were there two years ago. Interestingly, Google has virtually FORBIDDEN the manufacturers to place menu buttons on their phones since Android 4.0 is designed to have a virtual menu key. Thanks to Samsung's insistence on sticking to the old ways, that functionality is disabled. This is the same company that made the Galaxy Nexus with the glorious software navigation bar, having no buttons on its face. Six months later, we are back to a 3 year old design. Progress!
Galaxy Nexus on left, S3 on right. Which looks better? I know.
Rest is business as usual. Whatever improvements are there, those are provided by Google themselves. Gmail, YouTube, browser, Gallery, Music - all are elegant and work flawlessly. Frankly, I lost interest in whatever Samsung had to offer within 5 minutes. Having tried the elegant, understated, professional and futuristic vanilla Android 4.0 on my Note and Nexus before it, TW seemed like a step back to the 1950s, sort of like using Windows XP after Windows 7. I think Samsung's dogged adherence to its tried and true interfaces represents a gross under-estimation of its customers' intelligence. That is also evident in the features Samsung touts about: the 'nature' user interface (some wallpapers and watery sounds), S Voice (Apple Siri wannabe), some useless motion based features that no one will use after the first time.
Make no mistake: TouchWiz is good enough for Galaxy users; it just sucks when seen in a grand scheme of things. I, for one, think that had Samsung stuck to a closer visual representation of Android 4.0, they had an even better chance of going after iPhone 5 in his home territory: elegant user interface. As things stand, it is a sad mishmash of various influences that ultimately add no value to the pure Android experience.
Please bear one thing in mind, though. The phone is the fastest one I have ever used. All my aesthetic misgivings, however well founded, ultimately can't take away from the sheer horsepower of the device and how Samsung have optimised their software to take full advantage of it. There, too, I won't be giving them 100 marks. Sometimes the contacts and messaging apps take a few seconds to open. Same as 2011. Same as 2007. You know the drill. That is the actual reason I came down so hard over TW earlier in my review. There is no forgiving even a little bit sloppiness for a flagship device in 2012.
There are some other gripes. The phone has the UGLIEST in-call screen I have EVER had the misfortune of laying my eyes upon. You know what's missing from TW? REFINEMENT. You do expect some refinement in a product costing 62k. Apple does refinement extremely well. So does HTC. So does Google since last year or so. What's stopping Samsung.
Here is another, far more in-depth look at the S3 user interface. The guy nails it.
Thanks to the pathetic choices on the software front, I have a hard time recommending S3 wholeheartedly. Yes, this is the first Samsung flagship that has launched in Pakistan along with rest of the world, at a very reasonable price and with full warranty. As such, the package cannot fail.
But, sadly, I have seen much, much better software. Vanilla Android 4.0 puts everybody in a bad light. HTC's One X sports a better display and its Sense 4.0 is at least substantially progressed over previous versions.
So while the hardware, camera and processing power alone justify the asking price of S3, it is no longer a one-horse race and the biggest competition, I believe, is its elder sibling, Galaxy Nexus. I know that's not an opinion you will find on most tech sites, but that's what I am here for.
Last word: THINK before you buy.